Called to serve
Anglican cleric says island needs to be watchful of very bright people who have no scruples
He was born in St Maarten, spent about a decade in St Kitts and Nevis, and holds British citizenship. But don’t think for one minute that Reverend John Rogers is not Bajan to the bone.
“I am 100 per cent Bajan,” he proudly declared, as he welcomed Barbados TODAY to his office at St Luke’s Anglican Church, in St George, where he has spent more than ten years in service to God and ministering to his flock.
In fact, the 42-year-old priest is so much in love with this 166-square mile island that he says “Barbados is one of the greatest countries on earth . . .
“I owe so much to this country because I know what it is like elsewhere,” he said.
“My favourite spot, apart from home,” he chuckles “ is a place in St Andrew, at the top of Sturges, that has a window down to the East Coast and when you look at it, it is like a little bowl.”
The happily married father of six-year-old Sophia, his pride and joy, is a lover of cassava pone, the occasional bowl of souse and a good round of golf.
Reverend Rogers, the son of a Barbadian mother and an Anguillan father, moved here when he was mere months old, and was raised by his grandmother until the age of four.
He relocated to St Kitts and Nevis for 11 years and then returned to Barbados and began his love affair with the island as he settled down to the business of learning at the Lodge School.
“I was an ordinary student,” he said with a broad smile on his face, as he recalled his days of fun at the St John educational institution where he captained the cricket team and performed well.
“I loved cricket, but I never got around to the big league. I always had a good relationship with all my peers. Some said I was extremely quiet, but that is how I was.”
Away from the cricket pitch, his other passion was Church.
The son of a priest, John was drawn early to the familiar rituals of the Church.
“I can tell you that from about the age of 9/10 I knew most of the prayers in the prayer book. I loved them. I knew a lot of hymns and I used to study hymns, but it would look a little strange for a young boy to walk to school with a hymn book, so I would learn a couple verses so I would have them in my mind.”
The Holy Communion deeply impressed the young John.
“I used to practise the mass at home using a part of the drink cork. In those days when you had a promotion you would get the stopper and you took out this little white thing from the inside, it looked like a wafer,” he explained.
His love for the church only grew and when he graduated from secondary school at 18 he decided to make religious ministry his life. However, his parents had other plans and he obediently accepted their guidance.
“I told my mother I wanted to go into the priesthood and she said, ‘no you are not’. So I went to my father and he asked, ‘what did your mother say?’, and I said, ‘she said no’, and he said, ‘listen to her’.”
John opted to go to university where he pursued a degree in Chemistry. After completing his studies, he returned to the classroom, this time as a teacher, but he could not escape the call of the Church and after five years he decided to follow his heart.
“I really felt that this was the place for me. You don’t know it’s the right thing for you, you just know there’s nothing else for you to do. You see, this is not about what is the right thing, it was just something that I needed to do and you really can’t run from it. I couldn’t run away from the priesthood.”
More than two decades later, Father John, as he is affectionately called by his parishioners, does not have a single regret. His journey thus far has led him to St James Anglican Church, the St Michael’s Cathedral and St Luke’s Anglican.
Being a man of the cloth, he says, is no mystery.
“We are ordinary people, we have fears like anyone, anxieties like anyone, we have families and challenges. The biggest challenge is that you really have two families because when you start leading God’s people you need to pour yourself out for them, but you also have a family at home. So it is always that tension to make sure you give balance to the two. Sometimes you do well at it, and sometimes you don’t,” he confesses.
The Anglican priest, who was ordained in 2001, says his pastoral work is fulfilling as he laughs off suggestions that the life of a priest is easy like Sunday mornings.
For him, the priesthood is much more than preparing weekly sermons or performing weddings, christenings and funerals. Rather, it’s about service, sometimes 24/7.
“Sometimes I am home in bed and everybody is snug and sleeping, the phone rings it is after two or three o’clock in the morning and you have to go to the hospital or go to a house where somebody is dying, you get up and you go . . . in a sense you are always on call.”
“There are also a lot of things I am involved in. I am Youth Chaplain, I also sit on the Synod Council, which is also the governing body of the [Anglican] church. I am also a member of the National Committee on Monitoring the Rights of Children, then I am a member of St Gabriel’s [school] board, then I lecture at Codrington College, so I have to make sure that my lessons are prepared, so it is quite a bit.”
In the pulpit, Reverend Rogers has breathed new life into traditional Anglican worship, offering his parishioners thought-provoking sermons to deepen their spiritual walk. He believes Christians need to keep it real.
“I prepare my sermons as I move around and interact with the people I meet. I know what the readings are for the week coming and so I have it in mind and I reflect on what is happening. I read the paper, I listen to the news. I mean the Bible continues to speak to people of our time, so you have to make it relevant. I have to be current and make sense to the people on Sunday morning.
“I want you to have an experience of the living Christ alive and at work in your life and that experience comes through the liturgy and my aim is always to deflect attention from me and get people to be a part of everything so that when you leave here [church] you can feel, I am connected with Christ.”
He believes that the voice of Anglicanism is still strong in Barbados and suggests that the Church is in a very good place.
Asked whether he has any ambition to become the Bishop of Barbados, Rogers responded saying, “leadership in the church is nothing to crave or work towards or claim.
“I have a firm belief that the Holy Spirit directs things and whoever the Holy Spirit puts as the head of the Church will have my support 100 per cent.”
He however wants the Anglican Diocese to re-intensify its evangelistic efforts and become more active in the Barbadian society, which he said was facing some challenges that the Church simply cannot ignore.
“There are two things that concern me about Barbados right now. One is the lack of sanctity for life among many of our people. I think that is a big problem for us and we need to understand why persons are caught up with a mentality from elsewhere which has nothing to do with our dynamic, or if indeed we have been educating people in mind and not in morals. That is probably the most dangerous type of society to have -– some very bright people who have no scruples.
“What I am also concerned about is justice. We’ve been watching what has been happening recently to persons being laid off and we understand that the Government has to do these things, but I am particularly concerned that you have people on the breadline, there were promises that there would be a tribunal, that there would be a hearing, [but] no one seems to think of what they are going through and I think that is going to be a serious problem for us. You see, it is one thing to have a corrupt society where people pilfer; it is another thing in society where citizens feel they will not get justice.”
This Independence, Reverend Rogers urges Barbadians to rekindle their sense of nationalism in light of the current economic difficulties. He maintains there’s much to celebrate and citizens should use the occasion to reflect and redouble their efforts to take the country to the next level.
“Barbados has always been at the top of the line. It is for us to recognize this and recognize how we got here. We didn’t get here because people felt entitled, we got here because people felt an obligation for the generation that was coming after. We have an obligation to look after the generation that is yet unborn,” he said.
“It is not about sitting on our laurels and saying, ‘I am entitled to this’. Nothing in life comes free and in this 48th year of Independence we must recognize that we are at a critical juncture and if we do not engender a sense of civic mindedness that this country is ours and we must do whatever it takes to make sure that this country survives and make sure that it is the best it can possibly be, we will undo all the work that was done.”